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Bill to make 1st-time OWI offenders appear in court passes committee

Posted at 11:30 AM, May 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-30 17:22:00-04

UPDATE: This bill passed unanimously Thursday morning in an Assembly Committee and heads to the Rules Committee. It was one of two bills dealing with drunk driving that passed out of committee. Read about the other one here.

Wisconsin is the only state that doesn’t consider a first OWI a criminal offense and because of that, you’re not required to appear in court.

A plan to change that has fallen short in previous years, but now it’s back on the table. This bill passed unanimously Thursday morning in an Assembly Committee and heads to the Rules Committee.

Republican state Rep. Jim Ott is one of the lawmakers pushing the proposal along with Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson.

“Standing in front of a judge, I think makes an impact on people that maybe simply sending an attorney to court or simply putting a payment in the mail, maybe wouldn't have,” Ott said.

Under the bill, first time offenders would be required to appear before a judge or face a $300 fine.

“Of all the bills that are out there, this is the bare minimum that we should end up moving forward to say at the very least, when you drink and drive, you gotta show up in court,” Larson said.

This is one of several drunk driving proposals on the table this week in Madison. The same bill fell short in the Assembly in previous years.

Both lawmakers say in order for it to be successful, it needs public pressure.

“Call your legislators and make your voice heard,” Larson said. “That's what we're finding in this legislative session. We're getting more contacts on these. that's going to determine if they move in the process.”

They want to continue the debate in Madison not just on this bill, but all proposed drunk driving legislation.

“Less drunk driving means safer roads,” Ott said. “We all benefit from that.”

This proposal is one of a number of drunk driving bills expected to be considered this week in Madison. For more information on the other legislation, to contact your lawmaker to see where they stand, visit our Project: Drive Sober webpage, and join the Project: Drive Sober Facebook group.